The Ingredients of a Magical 5th U.S. Division Title


Standing along the ice last Saturday night moments before the annual Tips Awards Ceremony, and gazing at the electrified crowd of nearly 8,000 souls completely going crazy for a U.S. Division title, I couldn’t help but manufacture one appropriate word to summarize this incredible ride:

“Magical.”

How magical, you say?

Let’s start with local prognostications, everywhere including the words “favorites to repeat, with or without Barzal,” in description of the Seattle Thunderbirds, who in 2015-16 raced ahead of the Silvertips in the final three weeks of the regular season to take the U.S. Division title and then reach the WHL Finals.

The Silvertips? They came into this season as one of the youngest teams in the league. They lost four of their top six scorers from last season. By end of this season, they were still young – though the addition of Dominic Zwerger and Aaron Irving took them out of the “age basement.”

Yet consider the evidence:

  • They were the among the bottom four youngest teams in the Western Conference (by end of the season: 14 players on the roster were 98-born or younger). Two of those bottom four, Spokane and Vancouver, missed the playoffs.
  • By weight, they were one of the lightest teams in the Western Conference (heaviest? Seattle).
  • By height, they were one of the smallest teams in the Western Conference (biggest? Prince George).
  • They lost nearly 180 man games due to injury or World Junior Championships.

So how does this division title happen, outside the obvious element of warrior mentality?

  • GOALTENDING! Carter Hart – NHL property of the Philadelphia Flyers – was 32-11-6-2 with 9 bagels and tied the league’s best with a .927 save percentage.
  • SPECIAL TEAMS! The Tips penalty kill was best in the WHL this season. Their power play finished at 20.7 percent (very good efficiency numbers) – third best in Tips history – and torched their way through the final week, 8-of-24 at one point.
  • DEPTH! There were four guys who hit the 20-goal plateau (Bajkov, Zwerger, Fonteyne, Sutter) this season. Aaron Irving and Eetu Tuulola had 18. And … (*drumroll*) 18 guys were +1 or better.
  • COACHING! Kevin Constantine surpassed 300 wins – all with the Silvertips. Among winning percentage of coaches with four years or more in the WHL, he has the sixth best win percentage in league history (the only ones higher: Ryan Huska, Ken Hitchcock, Mike Johnston, Dunc McCallum, and Dave Lowry). Mitch Love’s defensemen teamed with the forward corps to allow only 2.3 goals per game, fewest in the WHL. We covered his penalty kill already. Brennan Sonne’s power play ranked in the league’s top ten nearly all year.

Starting in the summer of 2012 with general manager Garry Davidson overseeing the selection of the ’97 born draft class (think: Juulsen, Davis, Bajkov, Fonteyne), and culminating at the developing talent in the Silvertips dressing room under Constantine’s watch, the Tips have molded division titles in two of the last three seasons under a spectacularly coordinated array of moving parts. Or in other words, to quote the ancient Chinese proverb, “one finger cannot lift pebble.”

Banners are won throughout a 72-game process of blood, sweat, tears, analysis, and even some bounces along the way. It’s a division title that didn’t happen by accident. It happened, as once again, everything coming together.

Now it’s onto the playoffs: where anything can happen. I completely remember assistant coach Mitch Love’s heavy words of how “tight” the dressing room was this year. It was pretty evident that something special had been brewing.

We can’t predict how the playoffs will go. The point gap between the first and eighth place team in the Western Conference finished just 20 points apart, the smallest deficit since the Tips began play 14 seasons ago. This would be like trying to play darts with limp spaghetti.

One thing we can do: sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride. Friday night is almost here.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

Holiday Movies, Ranked


December delivers a parade of lifestyle options for an eight day period of no games, no practices, no trades, and no obligations (for on ice matters).

It’s called the holiday break. It’s much desired.

At the moment, the Silvertips carry first place in the U.S. Division and are one point behind top record in the entire league: for Snohomish County, a warming holiday reality.

The mind settles, the body relaxes. On our last Hockey Show on Tuesday before the Christmas and New Year holiday, Brian King said he’s sleeping in a little more (as a part of the 99 and 00-born group, it means no early morning school commitments). Kevin Constantine, out with family to the San Juan Islands, takes mind-unwinding walks or could be chopping wood at the moment.

The front office has departed until boxing day, meaning yours truly files this blog from the comforts of kitchen, whilst snow layers on the crisp evergreens and grass outside in the backyard (I’ll stop before this begins to sound more like the opening scene to a Hallmark Movie).

NHL Network is on the tube at times (yes, two-year old Lukas has already begun to request it). But you need some “downtime.” The flicks, as you may relate to, are an ideal way to soak in the time. Ranked below, as from this side of the computer screen:

(Don’t judge) …

  1. White Christmas
  2. Christmas Vacation (National Lampoon)
  3. Home Alone 2
  4. Home Alone, the original
  5. It’s a Wonderful Life
  6. Miracle on 34th Street
  7. The Santa Clause
  8. Christmas Story
  9. Holiday Inn
  10. Muppet Christmas Carol

World Junior Championships featuring Hart + Juulsen ramp up on Boxing Day, and the first place Tips starring Bajkov, Fonteyne, Petit, Davis, et al are back to action the next evening in Langley, BC.

(And, for you Hockey Show friends … we’re back at Sporty’s on Jan. 3).

Until then, don’t let the egg nog or your spirits go bad. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

The Vin Scully “I Know”

Let me start by reaffirming that the page you’re reading is a hockey blog. It’s meant to detail, disseminate and deliver stories from the hockey world, in between broadcasts.

But what you’re reading is partially inspired by not just a great voice, but an icon. And that icon is retiring the mic this season, and leaving everyone who leant an ear to the speakers with a flood of memories. That icon made an impact on not just those working in baseball, but across the entire sports landscape.

That icon is Vin Scully.

The figure who inspired me will leave the booth forever after he signs off in the Los Angeles Dodgers regular season finale at San Francisco on Oct. 2. It compelled me to pour out my heart and explain the Vin Scully “I know,” like crystalizing a warm, gentle, wise and incredibly articulate family member. Except he wasn’t a part of my family. He felt like it, though. And there are few people in many lives that influence decisions on a career path. He was one of them.

I wanted to be Vin Scully.

I was one of hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of kids who pretended to go to sleep just to satisfy mom and dad, when truth be told I was sneaking a radio under my covers just to listen to him clean up the ninth inning. I was mimicking Orel Hershiser in my Mom and Dad’s bedroom to their mirror, while the game blasted on 790 KABC-AM.

I was glued to the TV when he would lyricize each image on KTTV and KTLA. I rewound the 1988 World Series VHS tape a thousand times, copying every lyric he and Joe Garagiola articulated on a spur-of-the-moment script carried out on NBC (I don’t know how long it’ll last, but there’s a full length version now on YouTube).

It’s the tone, diction, and countenance of Vin who creates motherlode of appointment viewing/listening. He is timeless. Of course, over time, a broadcaster learns to cultivate his own genuine personality, and not copy his role models. But over time, his fundamentals remain the root of my broadcast philosophy (talk “with the listener,” not “at the listeners” – notice the change to plural in the latter).

This reaffirmed in my only personal, one-on-one encounter with him that will be one of the greatest highlights of my life, let alone in my career.

It lasted three days, in the summer of 2000, as a production intern for Fox Sports West (they had the Dodgers rights for years until forming their own network, SportsnetLA). As an intern, in part to the educational experience, at every sporting event in the greater Los Angeles area they covered you’re given the “option” of shadowing:

  • Personnel in the production truck and leaning about the bells and whistles
  • The broadcasters, stage manager, and statistician in the broadcast booth

Three Dodger games were coming up on the schedule. I admired the honest, hard-working individuals in the truck, but this was like getting a chance to watch Picasso paint inside his studio. Vin, please.

I didn’t talk to him (nor, have any ounce of courage to do so) that first night. On night #2 (June 26), inside a hot, cramped, but historic Dodger Stadium broadcast booth, I give him a “hello” nod and he returned the favor (a lot was happening – it happened to be Orel’s last game in his Major League career).

Side note: I’ll never forget the silent exchange Vin had with former Dodger broadcaster Ross Porter (handling radio that night), who took the time to drop into Vin’s TV booth after Hershiser was pulled by manager Davey Johnson. Hershiser left the mound to a standing ovation. All it took was for Ross to stare at Vin, and Vin to return the favor for a few seconds of silence to understand the gravity. We all realized Orel had emptied the tank.

On night #3, a couple of weeks later, I finally worked up the courage. Leaving Vin’s booth to use the restroom in the Dodger Stadium press box after the game, I returned to the dining hall quarters to find Vin sitting down over a cup of coffee with his stage manager, Boyd Robertson.

I thought “this is now or never, so let’s do this.” I walked up and found opportunity to tactfully interrupt Vin’s conversation when he made eye contact with me. And it was the most errantly fumbled introduction I ever had. I was legitimately starstruck.

“Excuse me Mi—Mister Scully …  pardon me …”

Vin (with a smile and in his familiar and elegantly soothing tone): “hi son, how are you doing?”

Did that ever release the pressure valve.

We exchanged names, “pleased to meet yous”, the short “get to know you,” and I explained to the greatest about THE GREATEST three days of my whole life getting an educational experience from a figure I looked up to since I was eight years old. And now interning for Fox Sports West, hopefully it’s a springboard to a career he served as an inspiration.

Vin: “terrific Mike, I am very glad to hear it! Welcome aboard, It’s great to have you here!”

Feeling compelled to let him go and return to his one-on-one conversation, I thanked/apologized for any interruptions, and got into my car for the drive home from Dodger Stadium on one of the greatest adrenaline highs of my whole life. It’s often said, “don’t meet your heroes – you’ll be disappointed,” but this is one example couldn’t have turned out any better, short of him inviting me for lunch the next day (I probably would have fainted).

Experience taken, immediately to heart. What I learned about Vin Scully that night, on a deeper level, is the root of his “charm.” It’s genuine. It’s what delivered the obvious and seemingly natural connection with every listener for decades. Even though you’re separated by a TV screen or a radio apparatus, you feel like it’s just you and Vin in the room, enjoying the game together.

Case in point: you know how Vin makes each call so incredibly intimate, even though it’s just him, on-air in the booth? He relies on others in the booth who are off the air. For instance, Vin’s line of communication is transmitted as sheer “broadcaster-to-listener,” but he looks at the stage manager, statistician, or others as he shares a story – as if he’s talking with THEM. That enhances his tone of voice. I consider it my “a-ha” moment.

Not to mention, his scorebook is about the size of a Marcel Proust novel. He is an expert at the game. He does his homework.

I admire Vin Scully.

It’s his kind of on-air style, the “intimate, storytelling, engaging” figure that serves as my backbone and I hope continues to live on. It taught me about the importance of a listener, as if they’re already a friend (and the bonus to meet them in real life). Your responsibility is to manufacture an “on air” relationship, and give the details.

Sure, there’s less time in hockey to review in detail what Carter Hart routinely eats for breakfast, comparable to when Vin shared a story of Madison Bumgarner killing a snake to save a baby rabbit.  As recent as 20 years ago, terrestrial broadcasting was the only way to find out the score and “how it happened” (now we have the internet, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, etc … in addition to the good ol’ fashioned AM/FM/XM dial!). But the timeless standard that carries on is Vin’s genuine, friendly, and inviting charisma that offers you to “pull up a chair” for each broadcast.

The men and women who hold a microphone and talk with you still matter. People still watch or listen to a game simply because it’s 2-3 hour live theatre at its best, and they still want to relate to and enjoy the presence of other people.

The games are a never-ending book of humanity. It needs the ultimate narrator. That’s Vin Scully.

He’s got only a few weeks left until his entire career rides into the sunset. And aside from holding out hope the Dodgers release a “Best of Vin Scully’s Games” on Blu-Ray, I feel satisfied/happy/fulfilled to have experienced three decades of his on-air masterpiece that left an impression on me as a listener, and three unforgettable nights that made a difference in my career, forever.

I will forever remember Vin Scully.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Tweet at him here.

(Photo credit: Dominic DiSaia)

Carter Hart Deserves This.

Consider this an ode.

The WHL Goaltender of the Year award is a celebration of many things:

  • Carter Hart is not just good, he’s scary good.
  • Carter Hart plays on a good team, who excel at defense.
  • Carter Hart’s bursting resume gets even bigger for the NHL Entry Draft.
  • The validation of a strong foundation in the Silvertips crease.

Amazingly, it’s the first time a Silvertip goaltender has claimed the WHL Goaltender of the Year award. But it comes with stiff competition each year, and much of that competition paves the way to NHL careers. Consider the names who have won the award in WHL history:

Darcy Kuemper

Martin Jones

Carey Price

Cam Ward

Josh Harding

Brian Boucher

Corey Hirsch

Jamie McLennan

Trevor Kidd

Mark Fitzpatrick

Ken Wregget

Mike Vernon

Grant Fuhr

Glen Hanlon

John Davidson

That’s a lot of NHL coin those goaltenders earned. And that’s a lot of fine company he’s joining.

In just his second year, and with the understanding he would need to shoulder an incredible load of minutes between the pipes, you never heard any public complaints about Carter Hart being “fatigued.” Nobody in the WHL, except Adin Hill, played more minutes (3,693) than he did. Nobody in the WHL, except 20-year old Landon Bow (who notched most of them when upgrading to the Seattle Thunderbirds defense) had more shutouts.

Consider the fact that Carter Hart is:

  • 17 years old
  • Is just reaching eligibility status for the NHL Entry Draft
  • Accomplished this season that was light years ahead of most 17-year olds
  • Now has a WHL Goaltender of the Year award under his belt

My first year behind the mic often involved unfolding the story of this well-mannered, ice-cold focused, insanely-skilled talent. As goaltenders operate interpersonally and psychologically in a different realm than their skating brethren, getting to know Carter Hart was a tale of youth embracing “the moment,” “being real” in every conversation, and refusing to accept false hype of what could be around the corner (another fancy way of saying “doesn’t get too up, doesn’t get too down”).

It’s a pleasure to witness his resume continue to build. Carter Hart, his family, and everyone in the Silvertips dressing room/seats should be proud.

Enjoy the moment and enjoy future, Silvertip Country.

A lot of people seem to be (pretty cool, of the Seahawks).

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips. Tweet at him here

Photo credit: WHL.ca 

10 Defining Moments: 2015-16 Silvertips hockey

At some point this season, if these guys didn’t make your circulatory system race, check your pulse.

 

The 2015-16 season, delivering the 13th in downtown Everett, was my first in the broadcast booth and therefore a preliminary experience to unfold the story of a band containing 20 men whose sole purpose: the path of highest resistance.

 

(Up until the last week of the season, they led the CHL in fewest goals allowed per game.)

 

I am, however, still behind compared to many who’ve filled a seat at XFINITY Arena in a green jersey based on their association with this team’s remarkable history. They’ve seen a lot from Harvey to Lotz, from Armstrong to Scherbak. Underneath the sheer entertainment value, they welcomed a grass-roots start-up now boasting an around-the-clock youth hockey agenda, and resident nurtured talent cracking the Silvertips lineup (see: Wylie, Wyatte).

 

Now, they bear witness to the only team IN THE LEAGUE – since they entered the WHL 13 years ago – to never miss the playoffs.

 

All things considered, you can’t leave the Everett Silvertips as a hockey afterthought, an “opening act,” an outpost.

 

The span of 13 years is a lot. We’re now entering the years of talking about serious tradition being built. We’re now talking about winning no matter what personnel (think the 2014-15 team that locked down at 2.7 goals against, but cracked top 10 for offense at 3.3 per game). They can win.

 

They can draw the fans. They can deliver timeless moments that remain with us forever.

 

Here is what you should never forget:

 

10) Outstanding in OT: It started opening night vs. the Spokane Chiefs. Delivering opening night theatrics, the Silvertips went an incredible 8-0 in their first eight games that ended in the extra session, designed to revolutionize the first five minutes past regulation. The new concept of “3-on-3 in OT,” according to many pundits, was slanted to favor more high-octane teams and manufacture unpredictable and edge-of-your seat OT winners. It turned out that this year’s team, was among the first across the game to master it based on control and intelligence. Not to mention: they still have guys who could finish. Laurencelle led the Silvertips with five game winners. Connor Dewar was tied among a select group of Tips, who had four.

 

9) Good night, Kelowna. Good night, 2015: The boys in green last recorded a win in the Okanagan on Jan. 18, 2012. I think back then: the iPhone 4 was just rolling off the conveyor belt. That’s a lot of time to pass between wins in a tough barn like Prospera Place. But facing a championship proven goaltender in Jackson Whistle (unfortunate circumstances leading this game to the last in his Rockets career), Carter Hart one-upped him and Dawson Leedahl’s game-winner at 2:27 of OT extinguished a nine-game win streak for Kelowna. More so: it proved the Silvertips recent success to open the season was no fluke. They could hang with virtually every projected “big boy” powerhouse in this league.

 

 

8) Charity begins at home: Two games tied into one moment: everyone packed downtown Everett in pink, and teddy bears rained down. In October, the Tips drew nearly 8,000 into XFINITY Arena for the annual “Pink The Rink” game. Think about how many tickets were purchased, then think about the percentages that were flipped to breast cancer treatment. A total of $87,000 went to that cause. Come the holidays, there would be no controversy over any manufactured “Teddy Bear Toss Goal” jinx. Connor Dewar took care of that pretty early. Plus, a ton of children in need got to enjoy an amazing holiday. In a sense, “everybody wins.”

 

 

7) Fit to be tied with Brandon: The only Silvertips loss that makes this list – and for justifiable reasons. The final: 3-2 in a shootout to the Brandon Wheat Kings, a team supposed to win the title last year (until a blazing Kelowna team routed them in four games) and is on an inside track to complete that mission this year. They were simply dominant in the first period’s opening few minutes, and Al Kinisky and I marveled at the near NHL pace encompassing the Wheat Kings cycle. It was sharp, crisp, quick and near-robotic. The Silvertips gutted their way through it: Carter Hart was on top of his game with 38 saves. Dario Winkler (ex Wheat Kings forward) scored in his Silvertips debut. And equipment manager James Stucky worked the 1,500th game of his illustrious career. Not too bad.

 

 

6) Bow, Down: 1:50 left in regulation – that’s all the time that remained as Graham Millar jumped on a rebound and parked it over the blocker of newly acquired late-game winner. XFINITY Arena, which seats nearly 9,000 people, was packed that night. It was a night where the Silvertips delivered yet another stunning blow to their U.S. Division rivals, in a series many expected to be so lopsided to the dwellers from Kent. It was proof the Silvertips could grind out one-goal wins in a challenging series (won handily by the Tips, 6-2-1-1). Not to mention: I nearly missed the call.

 

* Story time. If this bores you, just skip ahead to more nuts and bolts below. I have severe allergies to seafood (fish, shellfish, etc. Bottom line: if it swims, I can’t eat it). A press room meal misunderstanding between chicken alfredo and salmon alfredo left me realizing that I ate the wrong thing, after the fact. Dropping my fork and knife – and fearing my life – I ran to the Silvertips locker room. Luckily, trainer Wayne Duncan saw my sprint, walking the other way, and made a U-turn to follow me. He and a team of medical on-site professionals caught me in time. Administering an epipen along with sharp antibodies, I made a 180-degree turn for the better within 45 minutes (it was the sharpest recovery time I ever had from a bout with seafood allergies). It was also 15 minutes before puck drop, with Al Kinisky sweating bullets – fearing he’d have to call play-by-play on short notice. I winged the pregame show. Tips won before a boisterous crowd. The night almost had a heart stopping moment, or two. Also happened the day after my 35th birthday. I don’t remember asking for an adventure as a belated present.

 

 

5) By any means necessary: that one time where the Silvertips needed a win, or at least a point, to stave off the hard-charging Thunderbirds and keep their grip on first place. What we witnessed in the third period was nothing short of magic. Down 3-1, the Tips willed back with two goals, including Remi Laurencelle’s stunner with less than a minute left in regulation. Bedlam took over XFINITY Arena, and the Tips settled for a point in a 4-3 OT loss to Kamloops.

 

 

4) Hart-rob: the Kamloops Blazers were in the way. Matt Revel tried to force his way. Carter Hart said “no way.” Save of the year, folks.

 

 

3) Sweep dreams, Portland: For the first time since Mitch Love was patrolling the Tips blueline and George W. Bush was in office, the Tips blitzed their way through the first round in four games. For the first time since William J. Clinton was in office, the Winterhawks were hammered out of the playoffs with a whimper. It ushered payback for 2015, when the Tips were bounced from the second round against Portland. Let’s just say the bus wasn’t exactly quiet that night.

 

 

2) The biggest T-Bird Takedown: the stakes elevated in late February, and the Silvertips fending off a two-goal rally by the Thunderbirds in the third period meant a 3-3 tie was in the hands of the veterans. They didn’t disappoint, taking advantage of a turnover by the Thunderbirds in the neutral zone: another moment where downtown Everett turned into bedlam.

 

 

1) Dewar’s goal vs. Kelowna: just consider this. When you’re down 5-1, and need four goals in the last 20 minutes to stand a chance against the defending WHL champs, did you really expect anyone to pull this kind of goal out of their back pocket? You know you just can’t stop watching it. And it’s now getting talk in the same breath as Zach Hamill’s “the goal” against the Thunderbirds in 2007.

 

 

 

We’ll always remember those plays. Now it’s time to remember some guys. They aren’t just any guys: they’ll forever be a part of Silvertips Alumni:

 

  • Cole MacDonald (D): 266 games, 98 points and 29 additional games in the postseason. He led the Silvertips d-men in points this season. His shot didn’t come racing off the blade with the highest degree of velocity, but with as close to an assurance of getting to the net. If it wasn’t going in, it was producing a grade-A chance. He was a quiet leader, and was in the middle of several of the timeless moments listed above.
  • Remi Laurencelle (C): Consider how much the famous trade from Lethbridge in 2013-14 delivered his fortunes with a U-turn. Before trade: 100 games, 26 points. After trade, with Silvertips: 160 games, 104 points. He had the only hat trick and was the Silvertips leading scorer this season. Yeah, pretty certain to say he polished his resume to diamond-shiny levels, whether he carves the minor pro or CIS route.
  • Carson Stadnyk (RW): What else can you say about the one of the last Doug Soetaert era holdovers, family to a hockey namesake (see: Federko, Bernie) and the elder statesman on the Silvertips roster? He didn’t produce leading scorer numbers, but consistently busted the 20-goal plateau. By this season, he was nearly irreplaceable on the top line. I can’t speak for what was observed inside the room at 6:30pm each night, but his poise, savvy and dignity were an incredible set of traits delivering influence.

 

They will be missed. But they pass the torch, for great moments still to come.

 

Lasting words: this season was my first in the Silvertips broadcast booth. Since season #1 is in the books, only appropriate the thank-yous formally go out in bunches to many people for helping me and family get settled in. For starters, a great deal of gratitude goes to the front office powers that be for presenting me with the opportunity to work here — and excel:

  • Thank you Zoran Rajcic, Garry Davidson, and Bill Yuill. To Jon Rosen (esteemed Tips broadcast alumnus now working in the NHL), who told me about the job when it opened (without him, I wouldn’t be here), thank you.
  • To Al Kinisky and Kellan Tochkin, who are not just pros for the words they articulate in the booth to all listening ears, but great people to build relationships with, thank you.
  • To Kevin Constantine, Mitch Love, Brennan Sonne: thanks for sharing your wisdom, insight, and more to open to door to a great relationship we’re building.
  • To James Stucky, thanks for being a great bus seat neighbor with your professionalism and relaxed approach to work. And life in general.
  • To the fans, who have made me feel welcome online, inside XFINITY Arena, at Sporty’s, and on the street, thank you. They’ve also made my wife and family feel welcome and our embrace of the Pacific Northwest has accelerated rapidly. Feels like “home.”

 

Here’s to many more years together! This is a great place to live, work, play, grow, and to thrive.

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Lasting image (thanks, Chris Mast): very top of this post. It still gives me chills to look at a packed building in Downtown Everett. At its peak, it sounds like a miniature NHL environment.

 

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his first season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips. Tweet at him here

 

Must See! Here Comes Round Two

Please excuse yourself from the lack of sleep, the long day at work, the never-ending sloth of traffic, or the disappointing grade on that term paper to relish everything that happened on Monday:

And you wonder why we all love sports?

It’s for moments like those. They’re dopamine-drenched, feel-good, warm-fuzzies we often rehearse in our brain under the “what if THAT could happen” category?

And now we get the second ever Everett Silvertips vs. Seattle Thunderbirds playoff series. Total drive time: 45 minutes (without traffic, of course). Everett to Kent, Kent to Everett. Whether you go green or bear blue, we all coexist under the same Pacific Northwest umbrella (one that has flourished with the nearest NHL team two hours away in the Vancouver Canucks).

Quite fitting that one local media outlet previewed the series with two guys in one studio. At the same time.

At hand: zero overnight hotel stays and just 45 minutes of travel between I-5 and I-405. Anybody associated with this series and an automobile loves the extended family time (my wife and 16-month old son, Lukas, included).

By the way of stakes:

  • The Tips are bidding for their first appearance in the Conference Finals since 2005-06.
  • The T-Birds are bidding for their first appearance in the Conference Finals since 2002-03.

By the numbers:

  • Silvertips record: 6-2-1-1 in the series.
  • The Thunderbirds have lost only once in regulation since Feb. 8, capturing the U.S. Division title.
  • Verdict: 7 of 10 games were decided by two goals or less.
  • Both clubs have combined for 53 home wins, regular season and playoffs.
  • Both clubs finished in the top 3 for fewest goals allowed per game in the WHL.

Two Silvertips game winners were decided with less than three minutes left in regulation. Another one ended in the seven millionth round of a shootout.

It has two first round NHL Entry Draft selections:

  • Noah Juulsen, named WHL second team All-Star.
  • Mathew Barzal, named WHL first team All-Star.

A goaltender on each end has captured a WHL Goalie of the Month nomination:

  • Carter Hart, named WHL first team All-Star.
  • Landon Bow, 1st in WHL shutouts (7)

Let’s just put the predictions aside (those are for the pundits outside these walls) and consider that for all the contributing pieces (because there were many, for both teams), we have the building blocks of a series to remember. For a long time.

Games 1-2 in Kent make for a breezy commute for dedicated Tips road trip diehards, but the set of Games 3-4 (and 6, if necessary) is where the essence of “showtime” is needed for Snohomish County.

If you have a soul for hockey in these parts, you need to be in downtown Everett.  If you have a thirst for the entrancing elements of playoff hockey, you need to be in downtown Everett. If you carry the weight of pride – not just for the Silvertips, but for the achievements of Snohomish County in general – you need to be in downtown Everett.

(By the way, www.everettsilvertips.com/playoffpromos is where you get your tickets, if you haven’t crossed that off your list.)

SILVERTIP REWIND: In come the Winterhawks, and out they go with a Silvertip four-game sweep. Three wins came in the absence of Carter Hart. In place: Mario Petit and crew kept the Winterhawks tied or trailing for all but 2:16.

The ancient Chinese proverb remarks, “one finger cannot lift pebble.” Welcome to 2015-16 Everett Silvertips hockey.

Much to the credit too of head coach Kevin Constantine and assistants Mitch Love and Brennan Sonne, the Tips allowed a paltry 2.3 goals allowed per game (for much of this season: lowest in the entire CHL) got past them in the regular season. They don’t trip over their own feet, by way of a league record low 8.9 minutes in penalties taken per game. To borrow a phrase from Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff, “everybody ropes, everybody rides.” They outscored Portland 15-6 in the series.

By the end of it, countless additional contributions to help sweep the Winterhawks for the first time since the Clinton administration, Wayne Gretzky’s last season, and the rise of N*Sync.

To conclude four games against Portland, stick tap to the Silvertips faithful who made the trek down I-5 to Moda Center. We saw, heard, and enjoyed the engulfing pro-Silvertips support. Those who wear green certainly travel well. I tend to operate in a vacuum at times, but it was impossible to ignore the contrasting cheers at times during Game 4.

RADIO: Game 1 is Friday, with air time at 7:00pm in Kent (Fox Sports 1380/Tips App/WHL Live). Al Kinisky will be with yours truly, while Kellan Tochkin will take over color analysis for parts of the series (while big Al tends to business).

As a guy holding play-by-play responsibilities, it’s enticing theatre waiting to be described.

Let’s enjoy this one.

 

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his first season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips. Tweet at him here

Acrostic Preview: Tips and the WHL Playoffs

You might be anticipating a check-in from these parts with a series prediction.

 

Sorry folks, not my job.

 

Let’s leave that to the pundits. Because for 72 games plus whatever amount is gifted to my eyes in the postseason, the two hours plus are like a blank canvas, and the responsibility to articulate is like unfolding a story, or painting a word picture.

 

It’s the most magical time of year. So please be open to expect anything, and expect the unexpected.

 

Here we go: round 5 between the Silvertips and Winterhawks, between two U.S. Division rivals. Two coaches will go at it with notable NHL experience (Kevin Constantine and Jamie Kompon). Two cities with boisterous and vigorous fanbases will elevate the audio backdrop.

 

So, we bid you a hearty welcome to the …

 

Perspiration: nobody said this time of year would be easy.

 

“Whatever luck I had, I made. I was never a natural athlete, but I paid my dues in sweat and concentration and took the time necessary to learn karate and become world champion.” (Chuck Norris)

 

Lay-it-on-the-line mentality: I wish we had blocked shots officially quantified beneath the NHL level. There will be so many bodies in the way.   

 

Adversity: You may face a series deficit, a 5-0 deficit, a player deficit. We welcome you to the postseason, where nothing is impossible to overcome. On seven occasions: the Silvertips rallied from a third period deficit to force overtime. They had 8 overtime wins.

 

Yelling: Downtown Everett, and the Rose Quarter all add to the noise factor with two of the more successful teams in the WHL at the box office.

 

Obstacles: Newton’s third law communicates for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We’ll see plenty of it, no matter how many postseason games. The Tips present plenty of them: their 2.3 goals allowed per game are 2nd fewest in the CHL.

 

Forecasts: Everyone wants to get the winner right, in how many games, with the series clincher. But the beauty of the playoffs lies in the truth that you need to expect the unexpected. Embrace the clean slate.  

 

Freeways: Up and down Interstate-5 we go for the next several days: just 3.5 hours separate the two playoff combatants. It could be worse.

 

Success: It feels even sweeter at such a wonderful time of year. It’s the reason why we enjoy this grand scope of theater on an icy stage. There are many wondering that in such a magical season,”could we see a repeat of 2003-04?”

 

Hope you enjoyed the wonderful world of acrostics. I’m sure you figured it out.

 

Al Kinisky and I join you 30 minutes before puck drop, every playoff game, on Fox Sports 1380.

 

 

Home Ice: Who Wants Some?

CEREMONIAL PUCK DROP: Go watch (#Twitterless) Carson Stadnyk’s conversation with Aaron Levine (@AaronQ13Fox) from last night’s downtown Seattle Q13 Fox studios. “Stads” isn’t camera shy, and Aaron is a SportsCenter worthy anchor (and even better guy) who always unfolds a great conversation (we’re lucky he’s here in the Pacific Northwest).

The Everett Silvertips earned a playoff berth for the 13th time in 13 seasons, continuing a remarkable run of overall consistency that compares to only three other teams entering this season: Kootenay, Medicine Hat, and Tri-City (Kootenay’s already eliminated, while Medicine Hat and Tri-City are on the outside, requiring a mega boost just to get in again).

So, to put it mildly, the Tips model of success has been everlasting and nearly unparalleled since 2003-04 – if you put it into context of making the postseason. Snohomish County has been guaranteed real life playoff intensity every year, and it’ll continue this year in downtown Everett.

Last month: the Tips had to battle through a majority of the schedule without captain Dawson Leedahl, and a battered lineup forced to play one or two players short. The end result:

  • OVERALL: 7-4-2
  • HOME: 5-1-2
  • THIRD PERIODS: 15 goals (remember the late game-winners or game-tying goals to extract important points)
Tri-City Americans at Everett Silvertips

EVERETT, WASHINGTON – MARCH 05: (Photo by Christopher Mast/Everett Silvertips)

They’re the first of two in the U.S. Division to punch the postseason ticket. However, it’s not the be-all, end-all. They’re on the cusp of home ice advantage in the opening round, and they still have a mathematic shot at the U.S. Division title.

As the Silvertips stand four points out of the top spot, and nine up on Portland, here’s how everyone stacks in the final days of the season:

GAMES REMAINING (U.S. Division):

  1. Seattle* (6) – (vs EVT, at POR, vs SPO, at TC, vs POR, at POR)
  1. Silvertips* (7) – (vs. POR, at SEA, at TC, at POR, vs. SPO, vs VIC, at VIC) 
  1. Portland (7) – (at EVT, at VAN, vs SEA, vs EVT, vs SPO, at SEA, vs SEA)
  1. Spokane (7) – (vs KAM, vs TC, vs KEL, at SEA, at EVT, at POR, at TC)
  1. Tri-City (6) – (vs KAM, at SPO, vs EVT, vs KEL, vs SEA, vs SPO)

* Have already clinched a playoff berth

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY:

– Silvertips vs. Portland: rematch of last year. The travel requires only 3.5 hours of a commute between both cities.

– Seattle vs. Kamloops: Seattle’s won the last five meetings, with the last non-shootout win for the Blazers coming Jan. 28, 2015. Gregg Drinnan has more with potential building issues facing the Blazers in the opening round.  CLICK HERE

– Victoria vs. Spokane: Since the Royals entered the league, Spokane has won 13 of 20. But this season, where the Royals hold the top spot in the WHL, they’ve ripped three wins in four games. The travel here would present an interesting dynamic: Victoria, by road, is only accessible via ferry. It’s 420 miles and an eight-hour drive, in transit one way.

– Kelowna vs. Prince George: seven hours and 40 minutes apart for two teams that have combined for 80 wins. Kelowna has won 17 of the last 20 meetings. But keep in mind, they’ve lost rock star goaltender Jackson Whistle and leading scorer Nick Merkley to season-ending injuries.

Pull up a chair and buckle up. Al Kinisky and I open the radio doors tomorrow night at 6:30pm on Fox Sports 1380.

 

The Fun of “3-in-3,” and Family Calls.

Teeing this one up: we’ll be frank as possible. This weekend, the difficulty level just went up a notch.

Three games await the Silvertips, but three days are what’s required to get it done. Up to this point, the Tips had the luxury of competitive intervals lasting no more than two days in a row, just before a day, or two, or seven (in some instances) waited around the corner.

Now, it will be all about the typical ingredients we hear from the powers that be, directing the bodies and minds of talent in the game – pace, diet, fluids, rest in between.

FRIDAY: third meeting against the Rockets, and they’ll have more at their disposal (Chartier and Thurkauf are back from the WJC).  In spite of how tough it’s been to defeat Kelowna over the last four seasons, the Tips have won three in a row over their B.C. Division counterpart. Big miss for the Rockets: Jackson Whistle is on the shelf.

Of Carter Hart’s well deserved nod for the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, and homecomings, posted is a good read from Jesse Geleynse just before the boys hopped the bus for B.C., right here.

SATURDAY: Third meeting of the season against the Thunderbirds, and like the Kelowna matchup, the Silvertips have played to an amazing level for a pair of wins in the first two games. It took a lot of Carter Hart to get the first win done in October, but December’s win in Kent was intensified by the fact that the Tips were visiting their closest rival for the first time this season, and responded with an irrevocable attack for four unanswered goals. It gave the Thunderbirds their first regulation loss on home ice all season. And like Kelowna, the challenge becomes greater because the T-Birds get these names back: Barzal, Eansor, and True. Not to mention, they’ve been busy with the trading block.

SUNDAY: Opportunistic, productive, and resilient. That defines a 4-1 record in five games against Spokane this season. Last time these two teams met, Remi Laurencelle had a night we haven’t seen in nearly nine years. Waging battle with the Chiefs means accepting a quick, taxing, and strenuous challenge. The Tips have had to exert max energy for the four wins in five meetings. On the Chiefs side, it will be the first time there’s no Adam Helewka in the mix, permanently (traded in the blockbuster deal with Red Deer).

Still, there’s the challenge of dealing with Kailer Yamamoto, Dominic Zwerger and Jason Fram – they’ve combined for 15 points in the series.

  • DID YOU KNOW: By the end of the weekend, the Tips will have played 10 games on the road in 12 overall. Their record in that stretch, currently: 8-2-0-0. Amazing.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: As revealed Tuesday on the Silvertips Hockey Show, tonight’s game brings an untimely but necessary absence for me in the booth. I hate missing work and it’s an objective each season to be there for every game. Conversely, family is needed in the time of tragedy. We are mourning a loved one’s passing, and responsibilities in California command a presence for the funeral. Grandmother, Jeanette, was celebrated for her love, compassion, work ethic, and humility. While her passing was sudden, her suffering was minimal, and she is in a better place.

It’s tough finding a replacement at the last moment, but massive thanks to Dave Sheldon (@DaveSheldonYVR) – a dependable, experienced, and familiar (ex-Silvertips color analyst) voice to take care of the broadcast tonight. I can’t wait to repay him in person for his help, and I wish him all the best with tonight’s call. Puck drop: 7:05pm from Prospera Place. Air time: 6:30pm on Fox Sports 1380.

I’ll be back with you tomorrow night (along with Al Kinisky) in Kent’s ShoWare Center: Tips at Thunderbirds. “See you” on the radio.

Where Did Wednesday Rank?

Remi Laurencelle did more than just “show up,” his five point*** six point night is among the greatest offensive feats in Silvertips history.

He’s the first to eclipse five in a game since Tyler Maxwell did it in 2010-11 against the Seattle Thunderbirds, the first to hit six points since Dan Gendur did it in 2007-08, and the third player in Silvertips history to score four goals in a game.

The last guy in regular season hat trick mode: Kohl Bauml, who did it 366 days earlier against Victoria.

AUDIO: Laurencelle’s hat trick goal

AUDIO: Laurencelle’s 4th goal

Even more impressive: his line combined for 12 points (Carson Stadnyk and Dawson Leedahl each had 3 points). Their line was a combined +8.

Here’s the company Laurencelle joins:

4 GOAL GAMES
1) MOISES GUTIERREZ – January 24, 2007 vs. Portland Winter Hawks**
2) TYLER MAXWELL – January 15, 2011 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds**
3) REMI LAURENCELLE – 
December 16, 2015 at Spokane Chiefs**

5 POINT GAMES OR MORE 
7 POINTS IN A GAME (FRANCHISE RECORD)
1) DAN GENDUR – January 26, 2007 at Portland Winter Hawks (3g-4a)
2) ZACH HAMILL – (Same as above) (3g-4a)

6 POINTS IN A GAME
1) ALEX LEAVITT – February 18, 2005 vs. Prince George Cougars (3g-3a)
2) DAN GENDUR – January 23, 2008 at Prince George Cougars (2g-4a)
3) REMI LAURENCELLE – December 16, 2015 at Spokane Chiefs (4g-2a)

5 POINTS IN A GAME
1) MITCH LOVE – November 6, 2004 at Saskatoon Blades (1g-4a)
2) JOHN LAMMERS
– October 28, 2005 at Vancouver Giants (3g-2a)
3) TORRIE WHEAT 
– January 11, 2006 vs. Tri-City Americans (1g-4a)
4) JOHN LAMMERS
– March 3, 2006 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds (1g-4a)
5) PETER MUELLER
– November 25, 2007 vs. Tri-City Americans (5 assists)
6) KYLE BEACH
– January 26, 2007 at Portland Winter Hawks (1g-4a)
7) ZACH HAMILL – February 16, 2008 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds (3g-2a) 
8) KELLAN TOCHKIN
– December 31, 2008 vs. Red Deer Rebels (2g-3a)
9) JOSH BIRKHOLZ 
– November 12, 2010 vs. Tri-City Americans (3g-2a) 
10) TYLER MAXWELL 
– January 15, 2011 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds (4g-1a)

ALL TIME SILVERTIPS HAT TRICKS
1) MARC DESLOGES – February 28, 2004 at Portland Winter Hawks
2) ALEX LEAVITT – February 18, 2005 vs. Prince George Cougars
3) KAREL HROMAS – March 16, 2005 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds
4) TORRIE WHEAT – October 22, 2005 vs. Tri-City Americans
5) JOHN LAMMERS – October 28, 2005 at Vancouver Giants
6) PETER MUELLER – November 22, 2005 vs. Regina Pats
7) PETER MUELLER – January 13, 2006 vs. Portland Winter Hawks
8) JOHN LAMMERS – January 14, 2006 at Vancouver Giants
9) PETER MUELLER – February 17, 2006 vs. Spokane Chiefs
10) ONDREJ FIALA – March 1, 2006 vs. Portland Winter Hawks
11) ZACH HAMILL – March 3, 2006 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds
12) TORRIE WHEAT – March 5, 2006 vs. Kelowna Rockets
13) JOHN LAMMERS – March 10, 2006 at Prince George Cougars
14) MOISES GUTIERREZ – December 2, 2006 at Portland Winter Hawks
15) KYLE BEACH – December 3, 2006 at Chilliwack Bruins
16) MOISES GUTIERREZ – January 24, 2007 vs. Portland Winter Hawks**
17) ZACH HAMILL – January 26, 2007 at Portland Winter Hawks
18) DAN GENDUR – January 26, 2007 at Portland Winter Hawks
19) KYLE BEACH – September 28, 2007 vs. Kelowna Rockets
20) JORDAN MISTELBACHER – October 6, 2007 at Portland Winter Hawks
21) DAN GENDUR – December 31, 2007 vs. Kamloops Blazers
22) CLAYTON BAUER – January 19, 2008 vs. Spokane Chiefs
23) ZACH HAMILL – February 16, 2008 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds
24) DANIEL BARTEK – October 17, 2008 vs. Kelowna Rockets
25) DANIEL BARTEK – November 5, 2008 at Regina Pats
26) BYRON FROESE – December 31, 2008 vs. Red Deer Rebels
27) TYLER MAXWELL – March 21, 2009 at Tri-City Americans*
28) TYLER MAXWELL – December 27, 2009 vs. Tri-City Americans
29) JOSH BIRKHOLZ – November 12, 2010 vs. Tri-City Americans
30) KELLAN TOCHKIN – November 19, 2010 vs. Kamloops Blazers
31) JARI ERRICSON – November 27, 2010 vs. Medicine Hat Tigers
32) KELLAN TOCHKIN – December 3, 2010 at Swift Current Broncos
33) TYLER MAXWELL – January 15, 2011 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds**
34) JOSH BIRKHOLZ – January 4, 2012 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds
35) KOHL BAUML – January 21, 2012 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds
36) TRENT LOFTHOUSE – December 8, 2012 vs. Vancouver Giants
37) JOSH WINQUIST – January 20, 2013 at Vancouver Giants
38) TYLER SANDHU – March 17, 2013 vs. Tri-City Americans
39) JOSH WINQUIST – September 21, 2013 vs. Prince George Cougars
40) MANRAJ HAYER – October 25, 2013 at Vancouver Giants
41) TYLER SANDHU – November 13, 2013 vs. Regina Pats
42) JUJHAR KHAIRA – March 28, 2014 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds*
43) NIKITA SCHERBAK – November 5, 2014 vs. Red Deer Rebels
44) KOHL BAUML – December 17, 2014 vs. Victoria Royals
45) CARSON STADNYK – March 27, 2015 vs. Spokane Chiefs*
46) REMI LAURENCELLE – December 16, 2015 at Spokane Chiefs**
*playoff hat trick
** four goals

*** A scoring correction issued on Thursday found Laurencelle to be credited with an additional assist. Viola, six point night.